MoviePass, in its original form, was simply too pure for this world. But the oft-missed—my last roommate had his MoviePass card framed with votive candles—subscription service is attempting a relaunch, and CEO Stacy Spikes dove deep into the battle plan in a new interview with Vulture.
Given all the drama surrounding the dissolution of MoviePass, which originally shut down back in 2019, it was fair to wonder why Spikes wanted to revive it. He told Vulture that, after purchasing the company in a 2021 auction, he conducted research that proved fans still supported the core concept.
“The brand was healthy and intact,” Spikes stated. “Consumers never stopped talking about their love for MoviePass. They were able to separate out what was suboptimal behavior of some bad actors and what was an incredible brand that people loved.”
The “bad actors” in question are likely the original parent company, Helios and Matheson Analytics, which lost more than $450 million combined from the beginning of 2017 to the end of 2018. There were also a myriad of technical issues, ranging from users being unable to cancel subscriptions to its harvesting of personal data to its ill-conceived foray into surge pricing.
Spikes was the company’s CEO from its founding through his firing in 2018, when it was taken over by one-time psychic hotline owner Ted Farnsworth and Mitch Lowe. (It should be noted that one of MoviePass’ investments under Farnsworth and Lowe was the much-maligned mob movie Gotti starring John Travolta.)
The Vulture article doesn’t have an exact monthly figure for the revamped service, but Spikes said it will be north of the too-good-to-be-true $9.95 that caused financial many of the company’s problems in the first place. Rollout is still slated for this summer. And it wouldn’t be a 2022 company without—sigh—its own digital currency that can be traded between MoviePass users and a blockchain component
Perhaps most importantly, Spikes explained the headline-grabbing PreShow feature. You know, the one that led to a million articles and tweets about how Black Mirror it is that MoviePass wants to literally track your eyeballs using facial detection software to make sure you’re watching advertisements in exchange for credits. Users will voluntarily choose to watch the ads, but the enhanced level of tracking obviously differs from the ad-supported models of other subscription services like Hulu or Spotify.
“We’re already in dystopia,” Spikes said. “Think about it: All of your social media, your ability to communicate with the outside world, is ad supported. You have to watch stuff in order to get what you want. If we want to talk about dystopian — we’re standing in it!”
The gist is this: Spikes and co. came up with the idea for PreShow as an alternative to the exorbitant sums the advertising industry spends on product placement in major motion pictures. Instead of that, fans would watch ads prior to the screening, and the companies paying for those placements would then be used to provide discounted tickets.
“Your attention has value and should be controlled by you,” Spikes said. “So with PreShow we wanted to create the first technology that allows you to monetize your own attention and set a value exchange for that.”
“Somebody called MoviePass the ‘Christ brand’ because it got sacrificed,” Spikes also said. “The very people that were killing us, saying, ‘You can’t let this happen,’ became the biggest subscribers, right? The Roman emperors all became Christians.” Jaw-dropping religious allusions aside, the actual idea of MoviePass is still so tantalizing that we can’t help but root for Spikes to somehow make it sustainable.